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Houston expert: 4 tech trends to look out for in 2021

From events to online shopping — here are four tech trends to look out for this year. Photo courtesy of Medley

The events of 2020 dramatically changed the way marketing agencies — like mine, Medley Inc. — do business. As we enter 2021, many executives are reflecting on how many of these changes will be sustained in the coming year.

From subscriptions to online shopping, the digital realm deserves our special attention in 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Medley, like many agencies, has pivoted to produce virtual events, run more targeted ads on all platforms, and become even more cloud-based and systemized.

As a business owner, it's clear to me that many of these shifts will persist long after the pandemic has ended. Here are four of the greatest changes I have observed and how they will continue to affect the way we do business in 2021.

1. Events will be hybrids on and offline

From the American Academy of Pediatrics to IBM, the 2020 pandemic forced businesses and organizations to fully digitize in-person conferences and events. With the coronavirus vaccine only just now being rolled out, it's likely that we won't be able to bring these events fully offline anytime soon.

While some organizations will probably host offline versions of their events, they may boast smaller attendance than usual or utilize a hybrid on- and offline strategy to account for the health and safety of their attendees. Thankfully, 2020 proved that there are fresh, innovative ways to engage participants in a virtual experience. Plan ahead to continue this innovation in 2021.

2. A platform to look out for

Clubhouse is the latest virtual platform, developed to eliminate the fatigue of online video events while still offering a new way to connect with others — including celebrities, thought leaders, and like-minded peers. What makes Clubhouse unique is that it's a hybrid between a never ending conference and a podcast, letting you tune into speakers and engage in lively discussions at your leisure.

Many experts are speculating that Clubhouse may be the next big social media platform, and for good reason: there's something there for everyone. Personally, I love some of the daily affirmation events happening on the platform. Niche apps like Quilt, which is geared exclusively toward women -- have also emerged, attesting to the growing power of socially distanced connections.

3. Subscription services and content fees will continue

Virtually eliminating offline revenue streams meant that many content platforms had to get creative about how they would continue to be profitable during the coronavirus pandemic. Already, we're seeing more news sites add paywalls and subscription services (or increase pricing on existing services) — a trend that likely won't change anytime soon.

Online video streaming is no exception to the rule. For example, Netflix recently announced a fee increase for 2021. Climbing content fees are likely a result of increased competition in the online streaming space, which has changed the way we consume traditional TV and movies.

As opposed to cable services, which pose a single monthly subscription fee for access to a variety of channels, the shows and films we love are contracted to single streaming platforms. Businesses like Netflix recognize that with this shift, we are increasingly willing to shell out a premium in order to continue consuming the content we love.

4. We will see more options with online shopping

As you may have noticed, Instagram now has a feature called Instagram Shopping. The department store giant Wal-Mart also partnered with influencers and Tik-Tok for Christmas to sell products in time for the holidays. Increased availability of online shopping is a natural evolution of a pandemic that makes it risky to leave our houses to go to the store. However, it's also a reflection of our society's growing need for convenience and instant gratification during the shopping experience.

In 2021, I anticipate that these options will only continue to grow. Expect products to appear at every turn on social media, whether you're scrolling your feed or watching an influencer live. As a result, we'll all need to be prepared to practice restraint each time we see items tailored to our interests.

At Medley, we're leaning into data-driven strategy and imagining the client experiences we've grown to love in a virtual world indefinitely. Regardless of what the future brings, we now know that there's a more convenient way to reach our consumers, connect and indulge a bit too.

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Ashley Small is the founder and CEO of Houston-based Medley Inc., a digital marketing and PR firm.

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Building Houston

 
 

A new report finds Houston a top city for business friendliness and connectivity. Photo via Getty Images

Houston, the future looks bright.

A new study from the fDi Intelligence division of the Financial Times places Houston at No. 7 among the top major cities of the future for 2021-22 across North, South, and Central America. Among major cities in the Americas, Houston appears at No. 3 for business friendliness and No. 4 for connectivity.

"Houston is known as one of the youngest, fastest-growing, and most diverse cities anywhere in the world. I am thrilled that we continue to be recognized for our thriving innovation ecosystem," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is quoted as saying in the fDi study.

Toronto leads the 2021-22 list of the top major cities in the Americas, followed by San Francisco, Montreal, Chicago, and Boston.

The rankings are based on data in five categories:

  • Economic potential
  • Business friendliness
  • Human capital and lifestyle
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Connectivity

Houston's no stranger to the list. Last year, the city ranked No. 3 on the same study, and in 2019, claimed the No. 5 spot.

"The fact that Houston consistently ranks among the top markets for foreign direct investment speaks to our region's connectivity and business-friendly environment," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership. "Many of the industry sectors we target for expansion and relocation in Houston are global in nature — from energy 2.0 and life sciences to aerospace and digital tech. The infrastructure and diverse workforce that make these prime growth sectors for us among domestic players are equally attractive to international companies looking to establish or strengthen ties in the Americas."

International trade is a cornerstone of the Houston area's economy. In 2020, the region recorded $129.5 billion in exports, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. China ranked as the region's top trading partner last year, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

Houston's role as a hub for foreign trade and international business "is likely to support the region's economic recovery in the months and years ahead," the partnership noted in May.

"We talk often of Houston as a great global city — one that competes with the likes of London, Tokyo, São Paulo, and Beijing. But that's only possible because of our infrastructure — namely our port — and our connections around the world," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the partnership, said last month. "Houston's ties abroad remain strong."

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